A REFLECTION ON THE HUPC STORY
Our story is best told in our bi-monthly publication, The LYNX. Every other month the LYNX carefully and openly presents the specific issues on which we are working, the status of those issues, the history and follow-up of those issues. Of late, we have featured articles as wide ranging as why activists should participate in these decision making processes, the death of environmentalism, wilderness and spirituality, acid rain in the Uintas, poetry, the history of the Wilderness Act and regular book and literature reviews. Authors are not simply HUPC staff or board members but biologists, ecologists and poets from around Utah.
The LYNX has carried detailed articles on the forest planning process on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and has documented issue after issue, from timber sales to appeals to appeal settlements on both the Wasatch and Ashley National Forests. If we lose an appeal we say so and why. In other words, we never intended The LYNX to be simply a report and spin of the good—however that may be defined—but a history of the High Uintas Preservation Council.
During our ten year life time we have sponsored numerous workshops and symposia ranging from wolves in Utah, sustainability, global warming, and forest planning to how to write and paint with wildness. We organized and co-sponsored with St. Mary’s Parish in Park City a gathering of “Earth and Faith, A Day of Reflection,” presented a wilderness seminar at the University of Utah College of Law, presented a discussion and slide presentation at Western Wyoming College, and spoke at the U. S. Forest Service Centennial. We organized a bi-monthly meeting with the Ashley National Forest. Every second Saturday in September we meet with our members for a Rendezvous at Mirror Lake in the Uintas to update issues, answer questions and release a howl of hope across the range.
We are a unique local voice on Uintas issues while at the same time writing and updating members, friends and visitors to The LYNX and our web page on the broad conservation policy issues such as endangered species, roadless review policies, and forest planning direction.
As an organization we remain steadfastly unique as we continue to focus our efforts on decision making at a local level and focus the structure of HUPC around a grassroots effort. Our fundraising efforts are directed almost entirely, for example, on you, our membership, small local foundations, or local business-related donations. This is intentional. We want an organization of people, not funding sources. This defines the High Uintas Preservation Council.
Now the question: has all or any of this resulted in meaningful or successful notable change in Forest Service decision making or are we just bearing witness?
We have seen and been part of numerous meaningful and hopeful management decisions. Never can one organization, however, take credit for any specific action. There is always a deep and long history preceding any kind of shift in management, whether it be broad policy or site-specific change in a proposed action.
Nonetheless, we played a central role in moving the Ashley National Forest, local Uinta Basin governmental entities, water districts, including the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, and the Bureau of Reclamation to finalize the environmental analysis of decommissioning small reservoirs in the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW). These dozen reservoirs on the Lake Fork and Yellowstone River drainages will be removed and the wilderness lakes and watersheds will function naturally.
On the other hand, this was buffered by just the opposite decision on the two reservoirs on the headwaters of the Uintas River in the HUW. There, the Forest Service approved motorized access to “reconstruct” the reservoirs deep in the HUW, utilizing a little known and only recently recognized amendment to the Federal Land Policy Management Act—the “Ditch Bill.” During the first reservoir stabilization process, the Forest Service argued the Ditch Bill did not pertain to designated wilderness. This opinion was recently changed and applied to designated wilderness. We appealed and lost the decision. We consider this a singular disappointment.
We challenged a decision by the Forest Service to allow motorized access into the High Uintas Wilderness to assist a grazing permittee in distribution of salt for his cattle. After lengthy discussions, the Forest Service finally altered its original decision and, agreeing with us, prohibited the action.
We challenged a Forest Service decision to allow mountain biking throughout the Lakes backcountry, the large, roadless, western Uintas. In discussions with the District Ranger and Forest Supervisor, we convinced the agency to close most of the backcountry to such use.
On the same area, in the forest plan revision process, we argued the Lakes backcountry should receive a wilderness recommendation of about 75,000 acres and be closed to snowmobile use. The forest plan decision recommended a pathetic 35,000 acre wilderness and about that much not formally designated as wilderness but protected in a management prescription which would keep the area in an “undeveloped” state, prohibiting summer motorized use, timber harvesting, and road building. Unfortunately, both the wilderness recommendation and the undeveloped area were left open to snowmobiling. We again filed a formal appeal with the Forest Service and lost—another particular disappointment!
A profound disappointment HUPC faced was the final decision by the Wasatch-Cache National Forest to allow drilling for oil and gas in the roadless Main Fork. While the issue had been fought, appealed and litigated for over a decade (a decision was made to allow drilling in the mid ‘90s), the final decision arrived—with no option to appeal— in a 2004 Supplemental Final EIS (as a result of a suspension of leasing terms.) Whether the well will ever be drilled or result in additional oil exploration is up for grabs.
We challenged a Forest Service decision to allow a snowmobile outfitting and guiding permit on the Mirror Lake Highway and succeeded. However, the Forest Service has not fully lived up to the terms of the appeal by not initiating the promised study of winter recreation carrying capacity that was part of the appeal resolution.
On the other hand, after years of discussion and pressure and joint studies/inventories by HUPC and the Forest Service, the Ashley and Wasatch initiated a campfire ban on nearly 100 lakes and numerous high elevation basins within the High Uintas Wilderness. Concomitant with this, the forests presented us the original version of the long awaited High Uintas Wilderness Management Plan. We have pushed and prodded the agency to prepare this required document for years. While not as thorough as it should have been, at least it is a hopeful start.
We worked with the Forest Service on the East Fork Bear timber sale to assure none of the sale was slated for the roadless country adjacent to the HUW. Nonetheless, the sale was still questionable. Along with the Utah Environmental Congress (UEC), we appealed but lost. It is the same story on the West Trout Slope Timber sale on the Ashley. In this case, we have joined with UEC to litigate this timber sale.
Bar none, the single most serious threat to the Uintas ecosystem is motorized ATV/OHV/ snow-mobile use which is increasing in scope and intensity beyond anyone’s projection. It seems the least approachable and solvable issue at this point in time. The Forest Service feels compelled to allow the use to broaden, believing that will mollify motorized users. We see it as precisely the opposite. For years to come, it will define many a battle for ecological integrity versus recreational spontaneity.
On the administrative side, we are pleased with our survivability and vitality. Yet, as an organization we are faced with a common theme—fewer members, decreasing donations and less involvement from our members in programs and issue work. We have remained small and concise on purpose but there is no doubt of an efficiency issue/ threshold we must face—are we too small to be successful? This is an ongoing reflective concern of our board of directors.
On balance, we obviously think HUPC harbors a vigorous and meaningful voice. We hope you will agree with an even more vigorous voice and generous support.
The High Uintas Preservation Council